Fire chief gives tips to protect homes from wild fires

Small sparks can ignite quickly

July 16, 2012

Menomonee Falls - As the burn ban continues indefinitely, Menomonee Falls Fire Chief Jeffrey Hevey is cautioning homeowners, particularly those in the rural areas of the village, to take simple measures in protecting their homes from the spread of wildland or grass fires.

The Menomonee Falls Fire Department has so far dealt with small to moderate grass fires within the village. The majority of grass fires have been along the roadways and were most likely caused by discarded smoking materials.

The fire department has provided mutual aid to larger fires in surrounding areas including a 30-acre grass fire in Lisbon on July 3. Although there have not been large fires in the village so far this summer, the fire department is bracing for wildland fires as the extreme, dry conditions continue.

Hevey said the areas of most concern are the rural portion of the village west of Marcy Road and west of Town Hall Road. Though these are rural areas, there are large homes built in the middle of fields and wild lands. These areas are known as wildland interfaces.

"They just added three gorgeous homes there," Hevey said. "They are near fields, high grass and people are planting a lot of prairie grass, which you don't have to maintain and it's pretty naturally, but the stuff burns really good in this type of weather."

There are also areas in the more developed part of the village that have a potential for fires due to high grass near newer developments and around industrial parks. Hevey cited a small grass fire that broke out near an industrial building near Westbrook Crossing that was caused by a small spark that came from inside a building.

"They were welding and fans blew sparks out of the building and ended up in the grass," Hevey said. "It shows you how fragile the environment is right now."

Keep grass short

Easy steps to protect the home in the event of a grass or wildland fire is to keep the grass cut short, particularly close to structures. Homes should have at least 30 feet of space immediately around them and extending out as far as 100 to 200 feet depending on the characteristics of the surrounding forests or grasslands. Residents should also have a garden hose with a nozzle placed on all sides of the house "in case you have to defend a wildland fire before the fire department gets there," Hevey said.

Trees, he said, should be trimmed so they do not touch the ground. This will protect the tree from catching fire in the event of a ground fire. People should also use caution when working outside of homes and businesses to ensure equipment such as lawn mowers do not accidentally spark and catch the grass on fire. Most importantly, Hevey said, do not burn anything.

Inform neighbors of burn ban

"Talk to your neighbors because many people don't know there's a burn ban," Hevey said. "We have to be real careful and not only be aware of keeping things safe, but make sure it's safe for our neighbors as well."

So far there have been a dozen violations of the burn ban since June 14. Citations for violating the ban are $177; however, if a fire occurs due to a violation the fire department can seek to recover its costs from the violator, Hevey said.

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